The New York Review of Books
How Far Will the Court Go?
June 28th, 2017, 11:13 AM
The travel ban won’t be the only big case before the Court next term. It's a heady line up, and the news that Justice Anthony Kennedy will not retire—at a time when, given the Oval Office’s current occupant, the judiciary’s check on the executive branch is more essential than ever—is important.
The Nineteenth-Century Trump
June 27th, 2017, 11:13 AM
Donald Trump has often been likened to Andrew Jackson; this is welcomed and encouraged by Trump himself. An important parallel between Trump and Jackson lies in their efforts to reshape the political organizations of their time, though Trump does not seem to have Jackson’s knack for political decision-making. The most important parallel between Trump and Jackson lies in their rallying the white working class against ethnic minorities.
Romania: On the Border of the Real
June 26th, 2017, 11:13 AM
The image of an interior shattered by outside forces could be the emblem for all Cristian Mungiu’s films. He loves to present stories in which someone’s integrity is assailed by external influences, and Graduation offers one of his most melancholy contraptions for testing his characters’ limitations.
Britain: When Vengeance Spreads
June 24th, 2017, 11:13 AM
For all the gestures of inter-communal solidarity that have been given much publicity since the June 18 attack outside a London mosque, the more significant and ominous sentiment has been one of vindication. Anecdotal evidence, the prevalence of online Islamophobia, and a spike in cases of anti-Muslim taunting in the street suggest that many Britons, from small towns in southern England to depressed, working-class areas in the north, feel that “they” had it coming.
A Presumption of Guilt
June 24th, 2017, 11:13 AM
Late one night several years ago, I got out of my car on a dark midtown Atlanta street when a man standing fifteen feet away pointed a gun at me and threatened to “blow my head off.” I’d been parked outside my new apartment in a racially mixed but mostly white neighborhood that I didn’t consider a high-crime area. As the man repeated the threat, I suppressed my first instinct to run and fearfully raised my hands in helpless submission. I begged the man not to shoot me, repeating over and over again, “It’s all right, it’s okay.” The man was a uniformed police officer. As a criminal defense attorney, I knew that my survival required careful, strategic thinking. I had to stay calm.
Fathers & Daughters
June 22nd, 2017, 11:13 AM
When he started releasing hour-long comedy specials ten years ago, Louis C.K.’s material was long on kids, marriage, men and women, and getting older and fatter. These subjects are still a big part of his acts, especially in Louie, but he’s gotten even more traction with observations about our national mood disorder: the irritable, selfish public behavior and private melancholy of Americans in the smartphone age (or sometimes, more specifically, affluent white Americans). He’s most effective when he uses himself as representative American jerk and melancholic.
The Language of Diane Arbus
June 22nd, 2017, 11:13 AM
To the Editors: In an otherwise characteristically sensitive piece on Diane Arbus, Hilton Als repeats without qualification and as a truism that Diane Arbus “used the word ‘freaks’ to describe [her] subjects....” While often repeated, and in this case possibly unintentional in the implicit breadth of its meaning, nothing could be further from the truth, and the promulgation of the idea harms the reputations of both the photographer and the writer.
More Bresson Than Mozart
June 22nd, 2017, 11:13 AM
To the Editors: Michael Wood, alluding to Robert Bresson’s practice of letting quotations speak for him, writes, “When Mozart says of certain works of his that ‘they are brilliant..., but they lack poverty,’ he is close to the heart of Bresson’s aesthetics.” Mozart, unfortunately, never quite said this.
The Islamic Road to the Modern World
June 21st, 2017, 11:13 AM
In The Islamic Enlightenment, Christopher de Bellaigue aims to address a bias he perceives among general readers about the history of Islamic political liberalization. According to widespread assumptions, efforts to transform Islamic nations into modern societies were mainly imposed “from above” by Western-leaning autocrats—the underlying premise being that the Enlightenment was an exclusively Judeo-Christian (or post-Christian) movement that had no parallel in Islamic societies. This “historical fallacy,” in de Bellaigue’s view, has led “triumphalist Western historians, politicians and commentators, as well as some renegade Muslims who have turned on the religion of their births,” to insist that “Islam [still] needs its Enlightenment.” By contrast, de Bellaigue argues convincingly that efforts to bring modern political ideas to the Muslim world had a “natural constituency” among the educated minority and that, despite opposition, they slowly gained general acceptance.
Facing Off with the Old Masters
June 21st, 2017, 11:13 AM
One of the favorite sports of Renaissance artists was a contest called the paragone, the “comparison,” the age-old debate about the most expressive form of art. Like sport itself, the fun lay in playing the game with headlong passion, insisting that painting, or sculpture, or architecture reigned as queen of all the other arts. This spring and summer, the Florentine exhibition “Bill Viola: Electronic Renaissance,” organized around the work of the acclaimed American video artist Bill Viola, has brought the paragone into the twenty-first century.
Matisse: The Joy of Things
June 20th, 2017, 11:13 AM
Matisse, unsurprisingly, had strong feelings about the objects of his daily life. They delighted, inspired, or confounded him, in their humble ordinariness and in all that they evoked. These mundane items, the organizing principle for the exhilarating show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, served as sparks for Matisse’s art. The exhibition's considerations of these objects enable us to see Matisse’s works anew.
The Nihilism of Julian Assange
June 20th, 2017, 11:13 AM
About forty minutes into Risk, Laura Poitras’s messy documentary portrait of Julian Assange, the filmmaker addresses the viewer from off-camera. “This is not the film I thought I was making,” she says. “I thought I could ignore the contradictions. I thought they were not part of the story. I was so wrong. They are becoming the story.” By the time she makes this confession, Poitras has been filming Assange, on and off, for six years. He has gone from a bit player on the international stage to one of its dramatic leads.
The Banality of Putin
June 19th, 2017, 11:13 AM
It’s easy to see why Oliver Stone puts up with being lied to in The Putin Interviews, Stone's new four-part documentary. He needs Putin’s indulgence to make the series. The harder question is why Putin made so much time for Stone, given that Putin has a country to run. Stone does not have much to offer, and Putin cannot help but run rings around him for three of the four interviews.
Putting Profits Ahead of Patients
June 18th, 2017, 11:13 AM
At the center of both our flawed current system and its disastrous proposed replacement is a fundamental reality: health care in the United States is enormously costly, often in ways that are baffling not only to patients but to doctors themselves.
Afghanistan: It’s Too Late
June 18th, 2017, 11:13 AM
To continue seeing the conflict in Afghanistan only through the prism of war and troop numbers as the US does will only lead to continuing erosion of the government's legitimacy. and loss of territory. Taliban attacks will increase, there will be continued loss of territory, and the government may collapse. This is a recipe for failure.
Consciousness: Who’s at the Wheel?
June 17th, 2017, 11:13 AM
Parks: Where does that leave the concept of free will? Manzotti: We often confuse freedom with arbitrariness, as though freedom were tantamount to doing something in a random way. But we are only really free, or rather we savor our freedom, when what we do is the necessary expression of what we are.
Lost in Arabia
June 15th, 2017, 11:13 AM
The 1761-1767 doomed Danish expedition to the Middle East was little known for many years. In Felix Arabia, an account of the expedition recently published in a new edition, Thorkild Hansen sometimes doubts the expedition’s influence. But since, its reputation has burgeoned. Despite the losses and decay suffered by its findings, the maps, studies in zoology and botany, and other discoveries were a gift to the future. In 2011, the 250th anniversary of the expedition’s departure was celebrated with pride.
The New Face of Russian Resistance
June 14th, 2017, 11:13 AM
As long as some Russians, including some very young ones, are willing—as they were on Monday—to brave streets filled with riot police, they keep an unreasonable hope alive, and they increase the chances that opposition activist Alexei Navalny will survive and stay out of prison. That’s not nothing.
Words Still Matter
June 13th, 2017, 11:13 AM
James Comey's June 8 hearing proved that it is still possible for politicians to speak in complete sentences, to display a familiarity with history, to strive for linguistic and moral clarity: to make sense. But we are still waiting to hear from the senators and representatives with the fortitude to say lie as often as Trump’s supporters repeat not under investigation.
Lygia Pape’s Radical Banquet
June 12th, 2017, 11:13 AM
By the time she made it, Brazilian artist Lygia Pape's career had evolved through two schools of geometric abstraction—Concretism and its less rigid Rio de Janeiro counterpart Neo-Concretism. She had made paintings, sculpture, artists’ books, films, installations, and performance art. A retrospective of Pape's work currently at the Met Breuer—her first solo exhibit in the United States—is highly conceptual, drawing on semiotics, architectural theory, and anthropology, but never losing a deep connection with the visceral realities of daily life.
A Mystic Monumentality
June 12th, 2017, 11:13 AM
In recent years Louis Kahn’s messy personal history has threatened to overshadow his immense professional accomplishments, yet his aura has grown steadily, not just for what he achieved but also because of what has taken place in the built environment since his death. After he almost single-handedly restored architecture’s age-old status as an art form, his legacy was quickly squandered by younger coprofessionals. From the mid-1970s onward they have careened from one extreme, short-lived stylistic fad to the next—Postmodernism, Deconstructivism, Blobitecture—and lost sight of the profound values Kahn wanted to convey: timelessness, solidity, nobility, and repose.
A Voice for the Voiceless
June 11th, 2017, 11:13 AM
“Nothing epic,” Philip Levine said of his own poems. “Just the small heroics of getting through the day when the day doesn’t give a shit, getting through the world with as much dignity as you can pull together from the tiny resources left to you.”
Britain: The End of a Fantasy
June 10th, 2017, 11:13 AM
Brexit is an elite project dressed up in rough attire. Because Theresa May doesn’t actually believe in Brexit, she’s improvising a way forward very roughly sketched out by other people. In Britain's recent election, May's phony populism came up against the Labour party's more genuine brand of anti-establishment radicalism that convinced the young and the marginalized that they had something to come out and vote for.
Brakhage: When Light Meets Life
June 8th, 2017, 11:13 AM
To describe the thinking behind his films, Stan Brakhage often quoted a saying attributed to the ninth-century Irish theologian John Scotus Erigena: “All things that are, are light.” This is not a sensibility that would seem to lend itself to making home movies, and there is a disquieting tension in many of the films Brakhage made about his family during his first marriage.
Times Square Reborn
June 7th, 2017, 11:13 AM
In today’s America of drastically reduced civic expectations, Snøhetta’s quietly brilliant reconfiguration of Times Square is an exemplar of how much can be achieved in city planning without the gigantic financial outlays and dire social displacements that typified American postwar urban renewal projects. An evident understanding of how people interact in public spaces—above all their desire to be seen as much as to see—made Snøhetta an obvious choice.
Ironists of a Vanished Empire
June 7th, 2017, 11:13 AM
There is a whole academic industry devoted to the writers, thinkers, and artists who flourished in Weimar Germany—figures like Thomas Mann, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, and Kurt Schwitters. But Marjorie Perloff believes that this focus on Germany has cast a shadow over the distinctively different work done by twentieth-century German writers who lived in the territories once belonging to the Habsburg Empire.
A Darkness Lit with Sheets of Fire
June 6th, 2017, 11:13 AM
No wonder volcanoes, like sea-monsters, are the stuff of legends. The curators at the Bodleian have brought out its treasures and raided the archives of Oxford colleges for Volcanoes: Encounters through the Ages. The eyewitness accounts evoked in the Bodleian run from the famous letters of Pliny the Younger, about the eruption of Vesuvius in Naples in 79 BC—well known in the classical world—to the vulcanologists of today.
Israel’s Irrational Rationality
June 6th, 2017, 11:13 AM
This June, Israel is marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War. Some Israelis, including most members of the present government, are celebrating the country’s swift victory over Egypt, Jordan, and Syria as the beginning of the permanent annexation of the entire Palestinian West Bank; others, like me, mourn it as the start of a seemingly inexorable process of moral corruption and decline, the result of the continuing occupation of the West Bank, along with Israel’s now indirect but still-crippling control of Gaza. As it happens, my own life in Israel coincides exactly with the occupation.
The Demolition of American Education
June 5th, 2017, 11:13 AM
Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’s proposed budget for the US Department of Education is a boon for privatization and a disaster for public schools and low-income college students. They want to cut federal spending on education by 13.6 percent. Some programs would be eliminated completely; others would face deep reductions. They want to cut $10.6 billion from existing programs and divert $1.4 billion to charter schools and to vouchers for private and religious schools. This budget reflects Trump and DeVos’s deep hostility to public education and their desire to shrink the Department of Education, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of it entirely.
The Male Impersonator
June 4th, 2017, 11:13 AM
Hemingway had imaginative access to two things he hid behind his outlandish public image—a complex sexuality and a deep trauma. Since the publication in 1986 of the unfinished novel The Garden of Eden, which he had worked on fitfully from 1945 until 1961, it has been obvious that he was drawn to the excitement of crossing sexual boundaries. The he-man was at least in part imaginatively a she-man. It was already clear that Hemingway was drawn to the erotic potential of androgyny.
The Abortion Battlefield
June 4th, 2017, 11:13 AM
In 1973 the Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, found by a 7–2 majority that women had a constitutional right to end a pregnancy. Almost immediately, Roe v. Wade became a moral and political—and sometimes a literal—battlefield, and it remains so. Two excellent new books tell the story. Both authors support abortion rights, but they also present the opposition to abortion fairly.
The Paris Catastrophe
June 3rd, 2017, 11:13 AM
If the Paris agreement falters and we are forced to wait another decade for a new one, we would have no way of avoiding a dangerous and increasingly unstable future. Far from damaging the US economy as President Trump argues, the Paris agreement offered it a lifeline. Sadly, it’s a lifeline that Trump has just thrown away.
Pettibon’s World
June 2nd, 2017, 11:13 AM
If genius means anything anymore—for me it is the union of inexplicably keen insight with an uncanny capacity to say or show what others fail to articulate but everybody knows—then the artist Raymond Pettibon is one, the man of the hour at minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock. Fittingly, two exhibitions this spring show an artist obsessed with the larger, grittier, and often hallucinatory contradictions of “this American life.”
The Magician of Delight
June 1st, 2017, 11:13 AM
The Ernst Lubitsch retrospective about to unfold at Film Forum will offer a most welcome occasion to gauge the dimensions of the world he celebrated, and sample Lubitsch’s very particular pleasures. He offers a parallel domain of buoyant elegance, a theater of free-floating desire and inextinguishable humor ingeniously stitched together out of the fabric of Austrian operettas and French farces and the plot devices of a hundred forgotten Hungarian plays, flavored by delicate irony and risqué innuendo, where sex is everywhere but just out of sight.
How Internment Became Legal
June 1st, 2017, 11:13 AM
To the Editors: David Cole’s interesting piece “Trump’s Travel Bans—Look Beyond the Text” repeats a common mistake about the Supreme Court’s decision in Korematsu v. United States: that the Court’s decision “upheld the internment” of people in the United States because of their Japanese ancestry.
The Wit of Virgil Thomson
June 1st, 2017, 11:13 AM
To the Editors: In “The Knight Errant of Music Criticism,” Christopher Carroll writes that Virgil Thomson’s letters are “regrettably” absent from his collected Herald Tribune articles and other essays. I agree.
China’s Astounding Religious Revival
May 31st, 2017, 11:13 AM
If there were just one Chinese in the world, he could be the lonely sage contemplating life and nature whom we come across on the misty mountains of Chinese scrolls. If there were two Chinese in the world, a man and a woman, lo, the family system is born. And if there were three Chinese, they would form a tight-knit, hierarchically organized bureaucracy. But how many Chinese would there have to be to generate a religion? It could be just one—that Daoist sage in the mountains—but in reality it takes a village, according to Ian Johnson in his wonderful new book, The Souls of China. Chinese religion, Johnson writes, had little to do with adherence to a particular faith.
Will the Death Penalty Ever Die?
May 31st, 2017, 11:13 AM
When my older brother Jan David Rakoff was murdered in 1985, bolts of anger and outrage not infrequently penetrated the black cloud of my grief. Though I knew almost nothing about Jan’s confessed murderer except his name, I wished him dead. Had the prosecutor recommended the death penalty, I would have applauded. It took many years before I changed my mind.
The Proust of Portugal
May 31st, 2017, 11:13 AM
José Maria de Eça de Queirós’s numerous fictions have a central place in Portuguese and Brazilian literature, but they don’t seem much read elsewhere—at least not these days. It’s tempting to single out the fine quality of description, brilliant dialogue, rich cast of secondary characters, and unusual irony, which combines biting misanthropy with a broad and flexible attention to human pain. But another aspect of Eça’s writing has to be mentioned: how time unfolds with a sublime, almost arboreal leisure.